Music forms the core of Sanatana Dharma. Many of the Hindu deities play musical instruments such as Sarasvati plays the Veena, Krishna plays the flute and Shiva plays the Damru. Similarly dance also plays a very important role in Hinduism, be it the dance of Shiva at the time of Pralaya or Krishna dancing on the head of Kalia Naga or Mohini tricking Bhasmasura through dance. Due to this music and dance play a very important role in Hindu rituals. Indian classical music and classical dance performances have traditionally been performed at the temples during special occasions. Music also plays an important role in other religious traditions as well such as the choirs in Christianity or the Sufi music tradition in Islam. However, many in Islam and a few sects in Christianity consider music and dance to be evil and have proposed a ban on them. In this article let us understand why there is difference in perception with regards to music, why is it that music is the path to heaven for some and why it that music is haram for others.
Islam strictly prohibits everything which makes us intoxicated, this is why any consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in Islam. Music and dance have an intoxicating effect on us, when we listen to music or perform a dance, we seem to lose ourselves in it. Let’s understand why this happens. Our lives are uncertain wherein anything can happen to us in the very next moment, because of this we have developed and inherent tendency of looking for patterns in this universe. Discovery of pattern in this universe provides us a way of predicting the future and if we can predict the future then our chance of survival in this universe increases. Therefore, whenever we discover some pattern in this universe, we feel a reduction in stress and this is what is intoxicating. Now, music is a pattern of sound and when we listen to it, we are able to discover this pattern. When we listen to a monotonous sound, we fall asleep because it is highly predictable and therefore nothing to explore in it. Since there is nothing to explore in it, it becomes boring and so we fall asleep. When these is an undulation in sound then we have to constantly understand the pattern, as the music changes the rhythm, we discover a new pattern. This process of the discovery of pattern becomes and ongoing process and we remain engaged with it. This whole process of pattern change and its discovery become an inherently stress relieving process and we lose ourselves in it, forgetting everything else around us.
This loss of control on the self is the reason why Islam has discouraged music. We are all living our life in the uppermost level of our conscious mind, a lot is going on underneath it in our subconscious mind which we have suppressed in our conscious mind. Intoxication loosens the control of our conscious mind and thus brings forth our subconscious mind. Therefore, in the state of intoxication all those repressed feelings that we have kept buried in our subconscious mind comes to the forefront. This is the reason why many of the violent crimes are committed by people in the intoxicated state of mind. In order to avoid such things to happen, Islam has traditionally put a ban on intoxicating materials and since music and dance can be intoxicating there many sects of Islam have declared music and dance to be haram.
Having understood the real behind calling music haram, now let’s have a critical look on whether such a ban is really justified or not. The first question is that whether intoxication is really the source of the problem or is the source of the problem somewhere else? While intoxication makes us lose control of ourselves, the problem actually arose because of the repressed feelings in our subconscious mind. If there were no suppressed feeling in our subconscious mind, intoxication will not create any problems. This is the reason why you will notice that some of the best conversations between friends are performed after consuming moderate amounts of alcohol. This is because the inhibitions that we create for ourselves are loosened after consuming alcohol and people speak with each other more freely. In other words, we become more of our true self after intoxication and two people connect well with each other, then this connection deepens further. So, if you are good person from inside then this goodness further amplified on intoxication and if you are a bad person from inside then this badness is also further amplified on intoxication. Thus, we can conclude that the problem is not with intoxication itself, the problem is with our subconscious mind. If one has no suppressed feelings within him and if his subconscious mind is healthy then intoxication is harmless, if on the other hand the person has suppressed feelings in him and his subconscious is not ok, then intoxication can be harmful. This is the reason why the rishis and tapasvins in India have been consuming intoxicating substances since time immemorial and have been fine.
Now that we have identified the problem to be present in the subconscious mind and not in intoxication, let’s try to understand how music can help us with the problems of our subconscious mind. If we have a problem in a certain section of a machine then in order to fix the issue we need to go to that section of the machine and fix the problem there. Same thing applies to our mind also, if there is a problem with our subconscious mind then we cannot just suppress it, we need to drop in there and fix the problem. In order to descend into the subconscious mind, we have to loosen our conscious mind and therefore intoxication is the only way for us to descend into the subconscious mind. While alcohol is more potent intoxicant wherein there is a higher chance that one might lose complete control on its consumption, music is not as potent. Due to this there is very low risk of a person performing heinous acts on listening to music. On the contrary music is a very good channel for us to get access to our subconscious mind in a controlled manner.
Divinity resides in heaven and We are all divine, this means that heaven resides with us. The only problem with us is that we are not able to access this heaven. The only blockage between us and heaven is the day-to-day stress of life that we are experiencing all the time. Due to these stresses our mind remains tense and we are not able to descend into our subconscious where the divinity resides. When the stress is relieved then only, we are able to descend into the inner divinity residing inside us, we have already understood that listening to music releases our stress, therefore when we are listening to music, we are experiencing divinity. This is why in Indian tradition music has been called as the door to heaven.